Birthday gift for Lodhi Gardens: Exotic trees and many plans for the future

Somya Lakhani
It was on April 9, 1936 that the garden was inaugurated

From the benches of Lodhi Garden, three naughty members of Khushwant Singh's The Sunset Club (2010) watched life pass by. And its 15th Century monuments serve as a backdrop of a romantic moment between Mala Sinha and Dharmendra in the 1965 film Neela Akash.

On April 9, the capital's favourite rendezvous spot turned 83, and received two silk cotton trees, Indian Olive trees, Crescentia cujete trees and some Magnolia saplings as birthday presents from the Horticulture department of the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC).

With four 15th Century monuments, a bridge built during Akbar's era, three ponds, a Bonsai garden, a herbal garden and an expansive nursery, Lodhi Gardens have always provided a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the capital.

Spread across 95 acres, monuments are taken care of by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), while the gardens, ponds and nursery are under the NDMC. "We have a team of 75 officials, including 50 gardeners, who manage the gardens. The area is pided into four zones, with a supervisor or chaudhary for each. A budget of approximately Rs 10-12 lakh per year is given to the department, and for any added work or purchases, money is allocated," said Satender Pal, deputy director (Horticulture), NDMC.

It was on April 9, 1936 that the garden was inaugurated and named Lady Willingdon Park, after Lady Willingdon, wife of the then governor-general of India, who landscaped it. After Independence, it was rechristened Lodhi Gardens.

According to Pal, there are over 7,000 big trees of 215 varieties, lakhs of hedges, and last winter, at least 40 varieties of flowers grew at the gardens. "The oldest tree, according to me, is a peepal tree near Bada Gumbad, and is over 80 years old," said Pal. Starting this year, around 100 heritage trees have been given QR codes.

By 9 am, work begins at Lodhi Gardens - over 200 dustbins are emptied, the gardens and monuments swept, the ponds cleaned. At 2 pm, senior officials begin two rounds of inspection before the staff leaves for home at 5 pm.

"We finished restoration work at Sikandar Lodi's tomb in February and will begin the next phase soon. There are four officials at every monument in three shifts, daily," said an ASI, Delhi circle official.

A Bonsai garden came up in the late '90s and a herbal garden with aloe vera, tulsi, kadi patta and stevia plants was inaugurated in 2008-09, recalled Babu Khan, who retired from the Horticulture department of NDMC in 2017, after working at Lodhi Gardens for 15 years.

"I remember that we bought around 20 lotus plants from IIC in 2002, and planted them at the big pond at Lodhi Gardens. Soon, they spread and what a sight it was. In 2004, however, ducks were brought in and they ate up all the lotus. We then moved it to the other two ponds," he said.

Khan also recalled efforts to keep Lodhi Gardens "family-friendly" by trimming shrubs and hedges so "couples don't go into hiding": "It was done to ensure gardens are safe for one and all."